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Pure Michigan 400 Preview

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Only four races remain until the 16-driver field is set for the new Sprint Cup Chase playoff format and four spots are still open for any driver to gain by simply winning a race as long as their within the top-30 in points.

Last weeks winner at Watkins Glen, A.J. Allmendinger, currently sits 24th in points and wouldn’t be in the Chase under the old format, but is now one of the 12 guaranteed a spot because the new format rewards wins. Aric Almirola is 22nd in points, but he also gets into the Chase because of winning at Daytona. I can’t imagine anyone going on record before the season started saying both of those drivers would be participants in this year's Chase.

The biggest surprise among the non-winners so far has been Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne. Kenseth led the series with seven wins last season, but even if he doesn’t win within the next four, it’s probable he’ll make the Chase just because of points where he leads all non-winners by a large margin.

Kahne doesn’t have that luxury. He has to go all out for wins but also be mindful that he’s 12 points from the current 16th-place diver, Clint Bowyer. These next four tracks at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond are all good tracks for him. Win and you're in, which also makes drivers further down like Jamie McMurray and Brian Vickers dangerous. The more new drivers that win in these next four races, the less points mean to drivers like Kahne.

Kahne might be able to do some damage this week on Michigan's 2-mile layout, a place he ran fifth at June. His teammate Jimmie Johnson won that race, which was the first win there of his career. Kahne won there in 2006 and finished seventh in this race last season. Despite all his inconsistencies this season, Kahne is a live play Sunday at about 12/1 odds.

In that June race, Kevin Harvick led the most laps with 63 and finished second, followed by Michigan native Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard. Harvick has actually finished second the past three events at Michigan.

Jeff Gordon was sixth in June and has led 990 laps over 43 career starts, but like Johnson, Michigan wins have been difficult. He has only two wins there, the last coming in 2001. However, he's been consistent enough to take a long look at him to win, but his odds are low in the 7/1 range, which doesn't make him attractive.

Two-time Michigan winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh in June meaning that all four of the Hendrick Motorsports cars have this track figured out. Junior's only two wins for Hendrick Motorsports prior to 2014 came at Michigan.

Joey Logano won this race last season and Greg Biffle won the previous two events. Biffle currently sits 17th in points, just ahead of Kahne outside looking in. This has been a good track for Roush-Racing (track record 13 wins) over the years, but they don't look to have the power to compete with Hendrick engines in 2014.

The only two cars capable of winning other than a Chevy this week look to the two Penske Fords. They'll have a lot of Chevy's to go through to get the win, just like in the June race. The desperation of Kahne and his odds are a great look this week.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #5 Kasey Kahne (12/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)

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